I love high performance vehicles. And, if you think about it, almost all motorcycles qualify as high performance vehicles. On the other hand, most cars do not qualify as high performance vehicles. And, those that do qualify are expensive. Like, as in, ‘I’m not getting one anytime soon’ expensive. So I ride motorcycles.
Blurring the lines between cars and motorcycles is the 2015 Polaris Slingshot, a vehicle that may represent the highest value for the money in its segment. There are actually two flavors of the vehicle: the Slingshot and Slingshot SL. The standard model, available in grey, retails for $19,999. The Slingshot SL, with bigger wheels, Red Pearl paint and a blade windshield retails for $23,999.
Similar to a Lotus Seven or a Caterham, the Slingshot is just barely not an open-wheel car. The Feds say three wheels equals motorcycle. The styling, angular and swoopy all at the same time, suits the vehicle and certainly attracts attention – lots of attention from everyone, especially from those into performance vehicles and from small children who appeared to lose their minds and all self control when the Slingshot passed by.
While the exterior of the Slingshot appears to have an uncommon layout, the cockpit does not. Inside, the layout is standard sports car fare – steering wheel and three pedals with a standard 5-speed transmission. In its narrow footwell, the pedals are placed for easy heel-toe driving and there is a solid dead pedal off to the side.
Lowering yourself into the vehicle, you find the adjustable seats are very supportive, putting you in an attentive performance driving position and holding you there with aggressive bolstering and car style seat belts. Waterproof, the seats are made of some sort of dense foam material and are firm, supportive and cushy all at the same time. Seating position is similar to a Corvette or other high-performance sports cars – body bent in an L at the waist and legs straight out, almost on the floor.
Once seated, you’ll find a lockable glove box, two lockable storage bins that fit a helmet or backpack behind each seat, a marine-grade radio and six-speaker sound system, and a media console that features a 4.3-inch LCD screen, backup camera, USB port and Bluetooth integration. Lighting is all LED.
I was lucky enough to be able to operate the Slingshot at Polaris’ annual dealer meeting (which this year marked 60 years of business) and watched all ages and all body types enter and exit the vehicle. Some did it with more grace than others, but all did it. Lack of grace mostly came from “not knowing the drill.” The secret: As introduced on the famed Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, a tilt steering wheel that helps with ingress and egress.
Powering the Slingshot is GM’s Ecotec 2.4L DOHC four cylinder with variable valve timing – an engine used in many small automobiles from Saturn, Pontiac and Chevrolet. Weighing about 1,700 lbs. and with 173 hp at 6,200 rpm and an even more exciting 166 ft. lb. of torque at 4,700 rpm, the Ecotec doesn’t have much to push around. Power-to-weight ratio is in the truly exciting range.
Motoring enthusiasts tend to like MOOAAR POWER. Does it need more power? No, not at all. As it is, even for the jaded Stingray, Gallardo, 911 or 458 driver, it is thoroughly engaging. Not convinced? Ok, Mario, the active aftermarket can, with a bit of boost, easily double the power output of this common motor if you are sure you need it. Be sure to bolster that rear end, though, because the power-to-weight ratio would be in the range of the highest performance consumer vehicles in the world.
Making sure rich playboys with highball in hand don’t carry on the age-old tradition of wrapping the highest performance vehicle of their time around a telephone pole, the current trend in hyper-performance vehicles offers safety through electronic driver aids. The Slingshot has it all: traction control, electronic stability control (ESC) and an anti-lock brake system (ABS).
As for performance: Lets go Automotive and say ‘It corners like it is on rails.’ Unless you are driving super aggressively – as in, on a track aggressively – the Slingshot is nowhere near the edge of its performance envelope and yawns at your attempts. Polaris’ engineers figured that it corners at close to 1G. Steering response is hyper sensitive like in an ultralight sports car (Exige?) but doesn’t cross the line to being nervous, jittery or fatiguing.
The highly tuned space-frame tube chassis makes the vehicle feel as though there is almost no body flex, letting the excellent suspension on all three ends handle things. As for that suspension, it’s impeccably tuned to work well in all conditions from tire-smoking track use to springtime pot holes. It truly does deliver a strange feeling; after driving mundane passenger vehicles, it’s a surprise to be so intimately connected to exactly what a two-wheel front end is doing. Thanks to the tires, suspension and chassis, road feel is magnificent. You feel everything going on under you in a smooth, damped, not buzzy way.
When you start your turn, the weight transfer is diagonal to the front wheel from where you are sitting, again, different than a car. Once the weight is transferred, all you do is hold your line, changing it with minute steering corrections or throttle input. Throttle travel has an amazingly accurate response from the motor.
Lets break that up in fractions of a second. At first, the Slingshot understeers the tiniest bit just to keep you alert, but the understeer vaporizes the second you tip into the throttle. Then it carves through the corner neutrally. Unless, of course, you accelerate aggressively, in which case it predictably, confidently and controllably transitions to tail-happy tire spinning oversteer. But only to a point, then ESC and Traction Control smooth things out. When they do smooth things out, they do it unobtrusively. If you aren’t paying attention you will miss it and just think you’re a really good driver. Like the ESC, Traction Control is not calibrated on the side of conservative driving. It is tuned for performance.
Noticing a theme?
As you may have guessed by now, the Slingshot is not completely neutered by electronic nannies like other three-wheelers. In fact, it will even do a burnout. Press a button to disable traction control and it’ll burn rubber through second gear effortlessly with a chirp in third. On the track, you could use all of its prodigious grip entering and exiting the corners. The transmission has extremely short and precise throws that make every gear change a pleasure. The ESC is calibrated to intervene only when most people will be done having fun. Even then, it springs up only milliseconds before the average driver would become very, very scared.
Unlike modern passenger automobiles’ boosted brakes, the Slingshot’s are non-assisted. They require more pressure, but are very linear – the harder you push, the harder it stops. Don’t worry about pushing too hard, as the Slingshot comes standard with ABS. The brake package is very under-stressed for the vehicles weight and never faded even during intense, prolonged track beating.
Driven hard at the edge or operated totally casually with your arm out the side, the Slingshot is tremendously balanced and showed no abhorrent handling characteristics whatsoever. Not on the highway, in the curves or on the track.
Still, as you can guess, straight shot highway miles are certainly not this vehicle’s main intended purpose. Nonetheless, those miles are pleasantly eaten up by the Slingshot via its comfort and performance. Because you are sitting so low, driving next to semi trailers conjures mental images that alternate between carnage and under the truck stuntman fantasies.
Polaris Industries is very strong right now, flexing its muscles, learning many useful lessons in making interesting, innovative products as design and engineering exercises. Why? Thanks to the company’s successes in off-road markets, they can afford it.
So far, the Slingshots’ polarizing appearance and non-traditional form factor are bringing out the H8rs and online trolls in droves. There is no way that any of them have driven the Slingshot. Why? Because there is no way that any motoring enthusiast could hate this level of engineering and performance. The promotional videos that show people pumped up after the test rides? They aren’t fabricated marketing dreams. Everyone who has climbed out of a Slingshot was, in fact, that enthusiastic.